The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
Thursday, 28 December 2023 13:46

TWRA fisheries and crayfish expert retires after four decades of service

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1703176490365.jpgCarl Williams, a TWRA fisheries technician and self-taught crayfish biologist.  TWRA

MORRISTOWNCarl Williams, a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency fisheries technician and self-taught crayfish biologist retired after dedicating more than four decades to wildlife and fisheries conservation and management. 

Williams began working with TWRA in August 1979 through the Young Adult Conservation Corp (YACC), which was a federally funded program. Initially hired for a one-year assignment, he worked with lands management wildlife biologists on various projects, including white-tailed deer and wild turkey restoration. 

The subsequent year marked a shift as he joined TWRA’s Fisheries Division, conducting creel surveys on Cherokee and Douglas reservoirs. In August 1981, he transitioned to the Buffalo Springs Trout Hatchery spending the next seven years propagating and rearing rainbow, brown, brook, lake and Ohrid trout, and distributing them throughout many streams, rivers and reservoirs in East Tennessee. 

 Images of Faxonius shoupi from Sevenmile Creek tributary to Mill Creek and PickwickThe Nashville crayfish (Faxonius shoupi, Hobbs 1948) was federally listed as an endangered species in 1986 due to its limited distribution in the Mill Creek watershed; this waterway lies in the rapidly developing Nashville basin and has experienced habitat degradation due to agricultural run-off, contamination and urban development.  Carl Williams/TWRA

In 1988, he transferred to the newly established Stream Survey Crew, where he remained for the next 35 years assisting fisheries biologists in conducting surveys of fish and bottom dwelling organisms within East Tennessee, as well as crayfish distributions statewide. 

Williams was considered a crayfish expert by his peers and colleagues and was routinely conferred with by colleges and universities, as well as National Geographic and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. 

He is also renowned for his ability to photograph crayfish with intricate detail and realism and has been painstakingly photographing crayfish for a book he is coauthoring, The Crayfish of Tennessee. Williams’s work has directly led to the conservation of multiple endemic Tennessee crayfish species, a tremendous accolade for any biologist. 

For all his contributions and service, Williams was honored this past fall with the TWRA Fisheries Technician Lifetime Achievement Award announced during a meeting of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission. It is just the second
time the prestigious honor was presented.

TWRA Fisheries Biologist Parker Hildreth describes Williams as an “unsung conservation hero of the agency,” pointing out that he passionately went above and beyond his role to become one of the premier astacologists in North America, and a leading aquatic zoologist of the Southeast. Hildreth goes on to say, “Though not directly taking credit, Carl has personally discovered numerous undescribed crayfish species and has laid the foundation for future crayfish conservation for years to come.” 

Region IV Fisheries Program Manager Jim Habera had the privilege of working with Williams over the past 33 years on a variety of fisheries monitoring and management projects in East Tennessee. “The knowledge Carl acquired of Tennessee’s fish, macroinvertebrates, and particularly crayfish during that time, is unsurpassed,” says Habera. 

“He is one of our state’s crayfish experts and excels at identification and photography of these important but often overlooked components of our aquatic ecosystems. Along with his considerable knowledge, Carl’s dedication, dependability, and quick wit made him a pleasure to work with and an integral part of Region IV’s fisheries program during his long career.” 

Crayfish mapExcerpt from the American Crayfish Atlas

What is a creel survey?

A creel survey is one method of angler surveys conducted by TWRA

Each year representatives from the TWRA approach anglers while they are fishing in order to ask them about their fishing experience that day. This process is known as a creel survey.

The “creel clerks” ask anglers questions about the amount of time they have been fishing, what they are fishing for, what they have caught or released, where they are from, and questions about how much money was spent on the fishing trip. The information obtained is very useful to TWRA fishery biologists to make informed decisions regarding the management of the’s resources. 

Currently, the TWRA employs 11 full-time creel clerks who conduct creel surveys on 17 reservoirs throughout Tennessee. Annually they collect between 10,000 and 15,000 interviews. In addition to reservoirs, various seasonal stream and tailrace surveys are conducted on an as-needed basis. The TWRA also contracts with the Tennessee Technological Institute from time to time to conduct specialized surveys where new research is the main focus.

The creel clerks may approach anglers by boat while they are in the process of fishing. This type of survey is known as a “roving creel survey.” At other times the creel clerk may wait at a boat ramp, or pier to interview anglers at the completion of a fishing trip. This is known as an “access point creel survey.” If you are approached by a creel clerk, please take a few minutes to respond to an interview. This process allows you to have a voice in the management of Tennessees’ fishery resources.

Advantages of Creel Surveys

  • No recall bias — anglers are not required to remember effort and catch from past fishing events
  • High response rates
  • Creel clerks are able to directly observe caught species. This allows for accurate identification and measuring of harvested fishes.

Disadvantages of On-Site Creel Surveys

  • It can be difficult to relate the information to the entire fishing population. For example, a reservoir creel survey would not represent stream or pond anglers.
  • High cost per interview

— Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

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Last modified on Saturday, 30 December 2023 11:01